December 21, 2014
A bonus of contention
The labour front has been mostly dormant this month despite plenty of latent tension beneath the surface and the reasons are easy enough to discern — a combo of World Cup distractions and an intense debt crisis causing many workers to tremble for their jobs. The World Cup is only becoming more dramatic as it has already entered the elimination stages but the debt crisis has eased into the long rejected negotiations with holdout creditors with the result that the last day of the month not only looms as the date when the next batch of bond swap payments falls due — it also marks the date the midyear bonus must start to be paid.
A traumatic theme for management and workers alike. In the private sector companies must find the money when their costs have been severely augmented by sharply increased interest rates — it is no easier for a deficit-ridden public sector, perhaps especially for provincial governments. Meanwhile employees are almost bound to be disgruntled, whatever their pay levels — if they belong to the numerous workers whose endlessly protracted collective wage bargaining is still being dragged out, they will feel their pay levels lagging badly behind an inflation which is still stubbornly high, even if below summer peaks, while if they are lucky enough to have already negotiated an increase (close to 30 percent on average), they find themselves entering an income tax trap because of the levy’s outdated floor. One concrete sign of labour discontent is that Hugo Moyano and Pablo Micheli, leaders of the dissident CGT and CTA trade union umbrella groupings respectively, are teaming up for almost the first time since their general strike of April 10 (a move which paradoxically seems to have distanced them despite its almost total success thanks to a stranglehold on transport) — the current strike hitting security vans and thus the cash transportation which is the lifeline of the economy (potentially complicating the midyear bonus among other effects) might only be the beginning.
The degree of frustration among the trade unions controlled by Moyano and Micheli at least is so high that their next general strike seems more a matter of when than if. And the timing could be sooner rather than later — it should not be assumed that they will wait for the World Cup to end because, on the contrary, a strike would be the perfect excuse to stay home and follow the global soccer jamboree on television. In no way can the start of winter be assumed to bring down the temperature on the labour front.